Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The “Black Hull” Fleet: Multi-function assets for multi-mission duty—PART 1

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by CDR Gregory Tlapa, chief, U.S. Coast Guard Visual Navigation Division.

Pictured is a Tlapa blackhull vessel.
Black, White, Red
While all Coast Guard afloat assets are multi-mission platforms, they are loosely grouped into three communities—the black hull fleet, white hull fleet, and red hull fleet.

As the names suggest, the hulls are painted those colors and denote each asset’s primary mission function:

  • Black hull—aids to navigation,
  • White hull—maritime law enforcement and other safety-at-sea missions,
  • Red hull—icebreaking.
“Primary” being the operative word: As Coast Guard missions have expanded and evolved, so have the capabilities of its assets. Today the terms serve more to describe the personnel aboard the assets, engendering camaraderie within the communities and spurring friendly competition among them.

To fulfill its multi-mission duties, the Coast Guard’s black hull fleet or “buoy tenders” don’t just tend buoys—these vessels are routinely employed in all of the Coast Guard’s statutory mission areas, and carry specialized equipment to fulfill those functions.

For example, as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 mandated that they be outfitted with an onboard spilled oil recovery system (SORS) comprised of outriggers, booms, hydraulic skimming equipment, and product storage vessels.

In addition to “normal” operational training, seagoing buoy tender crews participate in annual training and mock exercises with this equipment. While the smaller coastal buoy tenders are not outfitted with SORS equipment, they also conduct annual training and mock exercises using pre-staged vessel of opportunity skimming system gear, and all crews receive hazardous waste operations and emergency response training.

Thanks to such training and exercises, these crews quickly integrated into the response to the sinking of the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

CGC Juniper’s spilled oil recovery system.

Find out more in part 2.

Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/spring2011/.